Subject: IPS: Ninety Rights Groups Call for Military Embargo Against Indonesia

Ninety Rights Groups Call for Military Embargo Against Indonesia Tue Jun 24, 9:00 AM ET

Jim Lobe, OneWorld US

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 24 (OneWorld) - Some 90 human rights, peace, and church groups around the world are calling for an international military embargo against Indonesia in light of its current counter-insurgency campaigns in Aceh and West Papua provinces and military-backed violence in other parts of the country. [see]

The appeal, part of a three-page statement signed by the groups, comes a month after a breakdown in peace talks between Jakarta and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). The Indonesian armed forces (TNI) immediately launched a major offensive involving tens of thousands of troops in the natural gas-rich province on the northern tip of Sumatra.

"This statement arises out of our alarm at the complete deterioration of conflict resolution and military reform efforts in Indonesia and the concurrent rise in the Indonesian military's lawlessness and brutality," it said, noting that the TNI's brutal efforts to subdue East Timor (news - web sites) in 1999 led to the intervention of an Australian-led multinational force and that region's eventual independence from Indonesia.

"The military offensive in Aceh, which is Indonesia's largest military operations since the invasion of East Timor in 1975, is now proceeding at a level that is causing widespread civilian loss of life and the destruction of Aceh's public infrastructure." As many as 200,000 people have reportedly been displaced from their homes, and the United Nations (news - web sites) has expressed concern that food supplies are running dangerously low.

The statement also noted reports of summary executions and torture in Aceh, including of students and boys as young as 12 years old. Hard information, however, has been hard to come by as a result of a ban on travel to the province for foreign-aid workers and journalists imposed by the Martial Law Authority established by President Megawati Sukarnoputra May 20.

Signers of the statement included the Asian Human Rights Commission, the U.S. Presbyterian Church, San Francisco-based Global Witness, the Washington-based Indonesian Human Rights Network, and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights, among others. The British-based Indonesia human rights group TAPOL and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) coordinated the statement.

Indonesia's TNI, which has received military aid, training and equipment primarily from Britain, the United States, Germany, and France, is widely considered to be one of the world's most brutal and corrupt national military institutions. During the Cold War, Washington trained more than a generation of Indonesian military officers and provided its armed forces with everything from M-16 rifles to OV-10 Bronco counter-insurgency planes and F-16 warplanes.

As a result of repression in East Timor, however, the U.S. Congress began imposing military sanctions, including a ban on training and the sale of advanced weapons systems, against Indonesia in the early 1990s. After TNI-backed militias went on a rampage there in 1999, Washington suspended all military ties. The European Union (news - web sites) (EU) imposed similar restrictions at the same time, but then lifted them four months later.

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against New York and the Pentagon (news - web sites), however, the administration of President George W. Bush (news - web sites) began pushing for a resumption in relations with the TNI. Administration officials argued that, as the world's most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia had a key role to play in the new "war on terrorism."

Among other assistance, the Pentagon has provided the TNI with some $4 million in counter-terrorism training and non-lethal equipment, while Congress agreed last year to lift some restrictions on other military aid and training.

Delivery of some assistance, however, has been held up by Congress since mid-2002 when two U.S. teachers were killed in an ambush near a U.S.-owned gold mine in West Papua. While Jakarta initially blamed rebels, police investigators, bolstered by a team from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI (news - web sites)), concluded that the evidence pointed instead to TNI units that had been paid to provide security for the mine as the most likely perpetrators.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who served as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia in the 1980s, still favors normalizing ties with the TNI, particularly by resuming training programs for TNI officers. "I believe exposure of Indonesian officers to U.S. (military personnel) has been a way to promote reform efforts in the military, not to set them back." But lawmakers remain unconvinced, noting that hundreds of Indonesian military officers had been trained in similar programs since the 1960s, but that there was little evidence of a change in the institution's abusive practices.

Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a measure banning training for the TNI until the president certifies that Jakarta is "taking effective measures" to fully investigate and criminally prosecute those responsible for the attack in West Papua.

The ongoing counter-insurgency campaign in Aceh and reports of mounting casualties and serious abuses committed by TNI troops are adding to reservations in Washington. Wolfowitz himself has stated several times that Jakarta should seek a political settlement to the conflicts in both Aceh and West Papua.

In its statement, the groups stressed that the TNI had not improved its performance since the atrocities committed in East Timor in 1999, for which virtually all Indonesian military officers have escaped punishment despite international pressure.

"There has been no meaningful progress towards reform of the military or the ending of impunity in the intervening period," the statement said. "On the contrary, the TNI is seeking to enhance its political role. The proceedings at Indonesia's ad hoc human rights court on East Timor have helped to entrench impunity rather than end it. Recently, the most senior officer charged with crimes against humanity (in connection with East Timor), Major-General Adam Damiri, missed several days of his trial in order to help prepare the TNI for its assault on Aceh."

The statement said that Russia had recently signed a deal to supply jet fighters and two MI-35 helicopters to Indonesia, while Australia, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden were also working to expand ties with the TNI.

"Given the backdrop of mounting casualties, wanton killings and human rights abuses attributable to the TNI in Aceh and Papua, we believe it is intolerable for governments to engage with the TNI on a business-as-usual basis," the groups stated.

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